For the past 23 years, my family and I have been living just outside Portland, Oregon. Back in 2000, Portland was selected as the best place to live in America by Money Magazine. But things have changed since then. Don't get me wrong. Life is still good here, especially compared to the lifestyle of a typical Wall Street commuter (which I was for some 15 years.) However, if you are thinking about relocating here, don't. We have enough people now. And 7.5% of them are unemployed.
Portland has a reputation of being populated by unambitious slackers, thanks in no small part to the TV show Portlandia. The show claims that Portland is the place where 'young people come to retire'. It's where 'the Dream of 90's is alive'. Not sure about all that, but if you think there's room for one more family then carefully consider the following...
Lousy most of the time. That's because most of the time, it's raining. One local beer commercial suggested that prospective visitors prepare themselves by taking a cold shower, in their clothes, for about a month! During the winter months, it's common not to see the sun for 30 or 40 days in a row. Weather reporters use the term 'sun-break' to describe momentary glimpses of the sun. What about snow? We hardly get any. If you have a snow blower, sell it and buy one of these. You are going to need to use it twice a year to keep your sidewalks and concrete driveways from turning a slimly, dark green! (Now I know why they call Seattle the 'Emerald City.') However, the summers are nothing short of spectacular. Short, but spectacular.
Very disappointing, especially when compared to schools back East. Typically, overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers. To save money, they've been shortening the school year! Brilliant! No wonder we a reputation of a bunch slackers! But a lot depends on the neighborhood. Some excellent private schools if you can afford them. But overall, they spend far less per pupil then they should.
Surprisingly expensive. Throughout the 90's big companies like Intel, Nike, and California immigrants (known as "Cali-fornicators") drove up real estate prices. Prices started coming down in late 2008 but now they are headed back up. (See real-time chart below. Keep in mind, this chart is Portland only, and does not include some of the surrounding municipalities.) Looking to buy a house? Check this out. And you will definitely want to bookmark PortlandMaps.com. This will give you incredible details about the property including property owner's name (but not in all counties), sales history, property tax information, and stuff like flood maps, earthquake zones, and even aerial photographs over the course of several years so you can see how things have grown! My tax dollars at work! And here is another great site that will give you a good idea of market price. Oh, and if you need a great realtor, contact my friend Janie and tell her "John sent me." (If you buy a house from her, then tell her she owes me a bottle of wine.)
Wonderful. Oregonians are some of the friendliest people on earth. Very unpretentious. You can go to the finest restaurants (and we've got lots to choose from, see below) in an open shirt and a pair cowboy boots and fit right in.
Improving. Since mid 2008, Portland was sporting one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation for a city of its size.
But things are improving... and people keep coming here. One headhunter told me that many highly skilled people are willing to take significant pay cuts to live here. Consequently you have a high cost of living and low wages. The employment situation, Portland's high cost of living, and crummy weather make it one of the most stressful cities in America.
OK, but getting worse. Portland Oregon has the dubious distinction of being the epicenter of the methamphetamine abuse problem. According to FrontLine, 85% of Portland's property crime is related to meth addiction. Still, Portland was recently named the 9th safest city (population > 500,000) in America. When I first came here, people would go downtown at night and not think anything about getting mugged or having their cars broken in to... now it's different. Our lame city government doesn't seen to have the ability to keep the so-called 'occupiers' from setting up camp on city sidewalks. During the day, be prepared for lots of 'street people' asking for 'spare change'(as if they were doing you a favor by relieving you of the burden of carrying all those quarters in your pocket.) The problem is too many well intentioned Oregonians give money to these alcoholics, psychotics, and fried meth-addicts -- and that attracts even more of them. (From California no doubt.)
Way cool. So much to do and see. You name it, it's here. Skiing (snow or water), fly fishing, hunting, site seeing, ya-da, ya-da, ya-da.
High. Less than Northeast, but not as cheap as you might think. No retail sales tax, but 9% income tax for most residents. OUCH!
Beautiful. Oregon is second only to Hawaii in the number of major waterfalls in the US. It's great fun driving around in the hundreds of federal and state parks just taking in the view. Oregon has magnificent unspoiled coastlines, beautiful mountains, forests, white water rivers, and high desserts... all about an hour's drive from the house! Indecently, this is one place where an SUV actually makes sense.
Horrible! (And getting worse.) "The quality of your life is inversely proportional to the square of distance you commute to work." -- John's 1st Law of Happiness
Sage advice for newcomers. When I first moved here, a fellow East-coast transplant gave me some excellent advice. He said, 'Never, ever, let the rain stop you from doing anything. If you do, you will be miserable here.' It's very true. Surprisingly, Portland doesn't get all that much in the way of total rainfall. It might rain all day long and we'll get .1" of rain. New Jersey gets more rain than Portland. What's disturbing to some is the constant, unrelenting drizzle and the dreary grey sky that can last for weeks. The fine misty rain is actually tiny flakes of snow that melt just before they they reach ground. The droplets are so small that umbrellas are useless -- the droplets just swirl underneath them. (BTW, that's how you spot a tourist. They are the ones carrying an umbrellas! Wimps.)
Excellent. (And that's coming from a guy who spent a lot of time in some of Manhattan's finest restaurants.) Like salmon? I didn't think that much of it until I moved out here. Now, give me a thick salmon steak, marinated in mixture of fresh rosemary, thyme, lemon juice and throw it on a hot mesquite grill and serve it up on an apple-wood plank. Add the item below, family and friends. Heaven! And make sure you check out the food carts popping up everywhere. Amazing!
Magnificent! Oregon is now producing some of the best Pinot Noirs on earth. (Don't believe me? Click here. If you are thinking of sending me a gift, let me suggest a Domaine Drouhin from the Northern Willamette Valley. Remember, "Life is too short to drink bad wine."
Do you like the TV cartoon show 'Simpsons'? Did you know that there is a connection between the Simpsons and Portland? 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening, who grew up in Portland, says it's all a coincidence, but I beg to differ. Here's why.
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